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KEY TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- SARS-CoV-2: the virus that causes COVID-19
- COVID-19: the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus
- Home Collection Test: sample is collected at home but analyzed in a laboratory
- Direct to Consumer (DTC) Test: home collection tests available without a prescription, but the sample is analyzed in a laboratory
- At-home Testing: consumer completes sample collection and testing at home
- Over the Counter (OTC) Test: consumer completes sample collection and testing at home, without a prescription
- Diagnostic Test: shows if you have an active COVID-19 infection
- Molecular Test: a diagnostic test that detects genetic material from the virus
- Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR): one type of molecular diagnostic test
- Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT): one type of molecular diagnostic test
- Antigen Test: a diagnostic test that detects specific proteins from the virus
- Antibody (Serology) Test: detects antibodies that are made by your immune system in response to a threat, such as a specific virus; not used to diagnose active infection
- Pooled Sample Testing: testing several samples together
Types of Tests
There are different types of tests – diagnostic tests and antibody tests.
Diagnostic tests can show if you have an active COVID-19 infection and need to take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. Molecular and antigen tests are types of diagnostic tests than can detect if you have an active COVID-19 infection. Samples for diagnostic tests are typically collected with a nasal or throat swab, or saliva collected by spitting into a tube.
Antibody tests look for antibodies in your immune system produced in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. Antibodies can take several days or weeks to develop after you have an infection and may stay in your blood for several weeks or more after recovery. Samples for antibody tests are typically blood from a finger stick, or blood drawn by your doctor or other medical personnel.
Understanding Your Test Results
Generally, for diagnostic tests, a negative result means the test did not detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and a positive result means the test did detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus and you are very likely to have COVID-19.
However, no test is perfect. There is always a chance that a test will return a false result. For diagnostic tests, a false negative means the test says you don’t have COVID-19 but you are infected, and a false positive means that the test says you have COVID-19 but you are not infected.
Because of this, even if you receive a negative result, you should keep practicing preventive measures, such as distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
If you are sick, you should stay home and isolate from others, even if you receive a negative test result. Talk with your health care provider to determine if you should be retested or for advice on managing your symptoms.
For serology tests, a negative result means the test did not detect antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19. A positive result means the test did detect antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19, and it is possible that you had a recent or prior COVID-19 infection and you have developed an adaptive immune response to the virus.
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